Rwanda: Public Institutions to Be Liable for Lost Lawsuits

4 December 2020

The Minister for Justice Johnston Busingye has said that the law will go after public entities that connive with complainants urging them to file court cases as cover-up for their mistakes in poorly or undocumented transactions.

He said this while addressing public legal officers at a meeting to discuss key changes in the new law establishing the general statute governing public servants and on the status of recovery of public funds.

Busingye said that while intensive efforts were being channelled into finding ways how cases against the Government can be significantly reduced, it had been discovered that some of the cases are pushed by some institutions themselves.

"We are aware that some of you encourage people to go to court so that the Government loses and the judge orders you to pay simply because you want to avoid taking responsibility of the mistakes that you make when you change contracts without going through the right channels," he said.

He said that talks with the Prime Minister's Office were in their final stages to ensure that the people who are involved in this vice are ordered to pay the court ordered fines.

Busingye said that public entities will be required to go through an elaborate process to ensure that all possibilities have been explored, choosing only to go to court as a last resort.

Between January 2019 and November 2020, the Government has been involved in 502 lawsuits.

Broken down, 279 of these cases regard administrative cases pertaining to terminations of contracts and recruitment irregularities.

Earlier this year, Busingye appeared in parliament to respond to queries regarding losses stemming from cases revolving around the dismissal of permanent staff, termination of contracts and failure to pay compensation on time, which some have seen as a demonstration of weaknesses in dealing with labour disputes within public institutions.

Between 2009 to June 2018, the Government lost cases that forced it to cash out Rwf1.5 billion.

In its 2017/2018 annual report, the Public Service Commission indicated that between July 2015 and June 2017, the Government was ordered to pay Rwf224 million as a result of cases it lost to former civil servants.

Other cases

Between January 2019 and November 2020, the Government has been sued in other cases that are related to land re-allocations and expropriation issues.

There are also 147 commercial lawsuits that involve contract termination upon recommendation of Rwanda Public Procurement Authority (RPPA) and procurement procedures not complied with.

Busingye requested public legal officers to scrutinize contracts before they are signed and take part in contract management where need be, to be independent-minded and to always put their opinions on record.

He reminded that it should be every public servant's responsibility to ensure that contracts are well designed and implemented.

"We want to remind you that loss of public funds resulting from poor contract management should not be tolerated by any one holding public office. Our ultimate goal should be maximum prevention of litigation against the Government and to secure a win whenever litigation happens," he said.

Not all is lost

In August this year, the Government announced that it has auctioned properties of at least 18 people and recouped a total of Rwf361 million from cases that it won in the last two years.

The money is part of the Rwf1.3bn that the Government is owed from litigation it won between June 2018 and 2020.

The changes

The Director of Legal Affairs MIFOTRA Fabien Mberabagabo, shed some light on the new law establishing the general statute governing public servants.

For instance, he said that while there was no clear system in which professionals with rare and exceptional skills who may not fulfil other requirements like the education level can be hired other than on contractual basis, the new law is clearer.

"The new law is specific on how they can be directly recruited as permanent staff and what packages they get in order for the Government to attract and retain them because their talents are rare on the local market," he said.

Mberabagabo also touched on the changes in how skilled civil servants can be motivated through promotions, adding that the vertical system of promotion had been introduced.

While the horizontal system of promotion only allowed civil servants to get an increase in pay, there was little to no change in responsibilities.

However, in the new law, the vertical system of promotion was added, meaning that a civil servant who was already working, and can now also be retained and promoted to another position that comes with a change in skills and experience, salary, benefits and responsibilities among others.

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